After Blademaster Zarinan zoomed into the forest, he quickly discovered the footprints and blood tracks left by Lorist. With those as his lead, he believed that his prey wouldn't be able to escape him. Even though he was indeed surprised by the skill in the sword showed by that kid from the Norton Family as well as the weird energy that he used that caused him to gain three extra wounds, Zarinan was sure that his counterattack caused quite a bit of damage to Lorist. Even if those tens of strikes weren't critical, they should be enough to ensure that Lorist no longer has any ability to resist.
All of a sudden, his left cheek pulsed in pain while his left arm and right leg felt a burning sensation near the wounds. Blademaster Zarinan knew that blood had stopped flowing from the wounds only because he used Battle Force to temporarily seal them. But right now, his three wounds started bleeding again.
After cursing venomously, the Blademaster brought out a small, circular, silver box and felt relieved that he had some medicine left. Back then when he departed for the Northlands, even though he didn't think that he'd get injured, he brought along some healing supplies just in case, much to his relief.
Taking off the circular cover, some semi-translucent, green-colored gel could be seen within. Blademaster Zarinan applied some of the gel on his wounds before tearing his undershirt into a few smaller cloth pieces to bandage himself up. He only relaxed after he felt the cooling relief of the gel on his wounds. Very well, Norton kid... When I catch you, I will make you beg for death...
After following the footsteps for another hundred meters, he heard a stream flow not far away and suddenly felt that something was off. Quickly stepping forward past the shrubs to check, he noticed that the trail ended at the edge of the bank of the stream.
This forest was actually near the Azure River, which led straight to the ocean and was located near some hills. So, it wasn't weird for there to be a long stretch of the bank there, where footsteps were harder to spot amidst the scattered stones. That caused Blademaster Zarinan much frustration as he didn't know whether Lorist walked upstream or downstream. But he was certain that Lorist was still nearby and could possibly even be behind the boulder near him.
"Don't let me catch you... Or I'll definitely skin you alive!" roared Blademaster Zarinan angrily. After cursing, he listened intently and hoped that Lorist would be unnerved by his scream and run further away instead of staying put.
But unfortunately for the Blademaster, apart from startling some birds within the forest, his screams did not have any other effect.
"I don't believe that he can get that far away from me just because he entered the forest only a few minutes earlier," Blademaster Zarinan mused. Right now, he could only use his Blademaster senses to search his side of the bank to look for Lorist whom he presumed was hiding nearby.
Blademaster Zarinan had heard about many assassinations back during the time of internal strife within the empire. Most of them happened between the First and Second Princes. It wasn't known which one of them began using such measures first, as both of them did things openly with a chivalrous style and it was weird for them to utilize underhanded assassination methods. But after one incident or another, both of them went all out. Since the First Prince was cruel and insidious with the Second Prince being venomous and cunning, the two of them considered each other to be their biggest rival and were willing to do anything at all for even the smallest advantage and frequently hired lowly mercenaries to carry out their dirty assassinations in hopes that they would be able to wipe their rival out without a huge conflict.
Those years were rather rowdy and most people have lost count how many times the First and Second Princes were involved in assassination attempts. The only thing Blademaster Zarinan knew for sure was that the Second Prince used to send mercenaries on assassination missions with the promise that if they succeeded, they would be able to become true landed nobles and leave their lowly status as mercenaries. However, not a single one of those mercenaries returned alive. Given that the Second Prince had two Blademasters protecting him, the First Prince was also quite cautious for his own well-being.
Bribing the servants and attendants to apply poison for assassinations is one of the most commonly used methods. Blademaster Zarinan remembered very clearly that time when the First Prince got hold of the most beautiful female dancer and sent her to the Second Prince through another noble who attended the Second Prince's banquet. The dancer's soft and gentle movements along with her slender figure caused the Second Prince to be rather excited to the point that he brought her to his chambers before that banquet even ended.
But what the dancer didn't expect was that Blademaster Zarinan was hiding within the Second Prince's chambers even when the two of them were having intercourse. When the Second Prince finally released his pent up desires on the body of the dancer, she believed that the time was right and removed a beast tooth hairclip from her hair. What was worth noting was that the hairclip's blue-colored needle was coated with deadly poison.
Just before the needle pierced the Second Prince's neck, Blademaster Zarinan stepped in and stopped the dancer.
The Second Prince who got out of his bed no longer had his previous gentle expression. The dancer then suffered a horrible fate which included being ravaged by hundreds of ravenous guards for three days and nights. Despite receiving medical care every time she was abused, she still died eventually. The moment news of her death reached the Second Prince, he had the dancer minced into little pieces to be fed to wild dogs.
That was the only assassination attempt that got so close to taking the Second Prince's life. Angered, he began his revenge against the First Prince and the two of them continued to plan one assassination after another, with neither having any success. Later, the mercenaries who were recruited for these missions knew that the chance of success was so low that they didn't bother to participate for the sake of their own lives. Eventually, the two princes had to stop because there wasn't anyone who bothered to carry out the assassinations for them.
But the one who suffered most during the assassination spree of the First and Second Princes was the Third Prince because while the First and Second Princes only had to deal with each other's assassins, the Third Prince was assaulted by killers from both sides because they didn't want the Third Prince to profit from their mutual destruction. And so, the poor Third Prince suffered a spear stab when he was asleep once and even got hit with a poison arrow in the following attempts. Even though he was rescued and attended to in time, he was reduced to only being able to lay resting in his bed weakly.
This time around, it was like the Second Prince returned to those days by sending his only remaining Blademaster to assassinate Lorist. It was apparent that his hate for Lorist was bone-deep. Given his temperament, the Second Prince thought that the sole reason he lost his whole army was due to Lorist. Having been chased out of the Northlands and humiliated so deeply, there was no way he would be able to rest well until Lorist was killed.
The Second Prince believed that as long as Blademaster Zarinan was sent, there was no chance of failure. The Sword Saint of the former Krissen Empire had already fallen 30 or so years ago in the last battle between the empire and the Forde Trade Union. Right now, among the many Blademasters of the kingdoms and duchies, Blademaster Zarinan was the only one who was closest to the level of a Sword Saint and his ability could be described as being on the borderline of the Sword Saint level, with him requiring only a final piece of insight to break through the bottleneck. It was within the realm of possibility for him to ascend to the level of a Sword Saint within as soon as the next ten years.
Apart from a few Gold ranked knights, the Norton Family didn't have any other Blademasters. That's why there was a 90 percent chance for Blademaster Zarinan to succeed retrieving Lorist's head. While the Second Prince was practically insane, he had his own reasons for doing so. First, taking Lorist's head was a form of release for him.
Second, it would be a good show of force for the other dominion lords. Even though he no longer had an army, he still had a Blademaster by his side, so that would cause the other nobles to think twice before they decide to not follow the Second Prince's orders, lest they lose their heads as a result.
As for the vengeance of the Norton Family that would come after the assassination, the Second Prince treated it as nothing more than a joke. He believed that as long as he could maintain his hold on Windbury City, he could simply wait for his father-in-law's reinforcements to defend him from the forces of the Norton Family. If they were to resort to assassination, that would basically amount to suicide as the Second Prince had Blademaster Zarinan by his side, keeping anybody with ill intentions far away from him.
Even if the Norton Family's forces were so strong that they would cause the Second Prince to lose hold of Windbury City, he could still escape to Duke Fisablen's dominion under the protection of Blademaster Zarinan. And if the Norton Family forces give chase, it would be even better because the Second Prince would be able to sit back and watch the forces of the Nortons clash against his father-in-law's. To the Second Prince, it would be ideal if both of them depleted each other's forces so that he would have an opportunity to make a sweeping comeback at their expense.
Blademaster Zarinan also held the same thoughts as the Second Prince and believed that he was only making a simple trip to the Northlands and that taking the head of the Norton Family leader was merely a small feat. He thought that his trip would only take him one short month and treated it like he would a relaxing walk in the park.
Even though the Second Prince was merely his swordsmanship disciple, Blademaster Zarinan had long considered him to be his own son. As the Blademaster was obsessed with researching the way of the sword, he didn't settle down to form a family. Apart from his junior apprentice brother Louinse, the Second Prince who had begun learning swordsmanship from him since the age of eight was one of the few people who were closest to him. Even though the Second Prince developed various ill habits and attitude problems, he still maintained a good degree of respect to Blademaster Zarinan and after spending time with each other over the course of 40 years, the two had already developed a pseudo-parent-child relationship.
But Blademaster Zarinan never would've imagined that the Norton Family leader would be so hard to deal with. Not only has he not succeeded yet, he even suffered three injuries from that kid's strikes that were infused with a weird force. While Lorist himself wasn't faring that well either and even escaped into the forests with a body full of wounds, if Blademaster Zarinan failed to claim his head, then this matter would become a mark of humiliation that would earn him to scorn and ridicule of the others for the rest of his life.
Not far away in the distance, sounds of people shouting and horses neighing could be heard. They were the reinforcements of the Norton Family forces who had begun their search within the forest. Blademaster Zarinan himself did not really mind them. If he were on a flat plain, he might've needed to retreat when faced with thousands of men and horses. But in the dense forest like this, the Norton Family soldiers did not really pose a real threat to him and he could just kill as many that dared to come at him as he can.
However, he still had no idea where Lorist was hiding and wondered if he chose the wrong direction and deliberated whether he should go the other way upstream.
In actuality, the displacement from Lorist to Blademaster Zarinan was only around 30 meters. He wasn't hiding behind the boulders around the bank or the forests. When he arrived at the bank, he saw a hanging vine and quickly climbed down it. After that, he swung himself on top of a branch nearby to make his way as far from the bank as possible. When he felt tired, he sat on the tree branch and rested after he felt that he was safe enough.
As expected, Blademaster Zarinan began searching around the boulders near the forests and bank and focused all his attention on the ground in hopes that he would be able to locate some tracks without bothering to raise his head to check above.
Breathing a relieved breath, Lorist tended to his injuries after he recovered some more energy. When he was escaping, he had temporarily tapped his pressure points to stop the bleeding, but when he climbed up that tree, his wounds started bleeding again. It was a terrible thing to be bleeding within the forest as some magical beasts that have great sense of smell would quickly be able to locate oneself based on the smell of blood. It was even harder to hide from the magical beasts than from the eyes of Blademaster Zarinan.
Lorist on the other hand carried far more healing supplies than the Blademaster did. There was a hidden pouch on his outer robe in which three or four different types of medicinal ointments were kept. The only troublesome thing was that he had to remove his wire mesh armor to access them. In his last clash with the Blademaster, he had received more than ten sword strikes and his wire mesh armor had been torn to shreds with some of the wire even piercing into his flesh.
Lorist gritted his teeth and managed to remove his wire mesh armor with much difficulty, causing his shirt to be stained red by his blood once again. Since his clothes were also wet, Lorist removed them altogether. After that, he tapped a few more of his pressure points again to stop the bleeding and began to apply some medicine before taking out a curved needle and some goat intestine thread from a small silver box. Following that, he broke off a piece of tree branch and bit on it with his teeth and shivered as the searing pain from sewing his injuries shut assailed his mind.
After cleaning his wounds, he wrapped up his injuries and began to sweat profusely. Lorist was also feeling rather light-headed when he retrieved a small silver flask from the pouch of his outer robe which contained some rank 2 recovery medicine and poured two drops of it into his mouth. Following that, he shut his eyes and rested for a bit before feeling refreshed when his body began to regain some energy.
Lorist then put his outer robe back on before wrapping another piece of cloth torn from his under garment on his body. It was then when he heard the sounds of conflict and death coming from the bank of the stream. When Lorist stood up on the branch and looked, he was shocked to see that it had already turned into a bloody battlefield with hundreds of family soldiers and war horses lying dead all over the bank who were defeated by only one enemy, that ghostly Blademaster which seemed to appear out of nowhere before disappearing altogether.
However, Blademaster Zarinan at that moment looked exceedingly haggard with his hair being all messed up and a few more additional wounds that were previously not visible on his body. There was even one arrow stuck onto his back. No matter how many he killed, when faced with waves of Norton Family soldiers who did not fear death, Zarinan himself couldn't afford to let his guard down and had to give it his all to deal with them.
Just now, the soldiers Blademaster Zarinan were fighting were a bunch of mounted longbowmen. The hundred or so arrows that flew his way weren't much of a threat as he even began to slaughter away at the bowmen. But before he managed to kill the bulk of them, a green arrow caused him quite a lot of harm. He initially thought that the green arrow was similar to the others and he used his sword to lightly block it, only to feel the Battle Force infused within the arrow explode all of a sudden, causing his longsword to be knocked away. With tens of arrows still heading his way, he had no choice to dodge, but he was still struck by one arrow on his back nevertheless.
Having fallen into that trap, Blademaster Zarinan's rage rose sky high and he proceeded to seek out the person who had gotten the better of him. It was then when he noticed that the one who fired that green arrow was a Gold ranked marksman and every time he drew his bow, it made the Blademaster feel that a formidable enemy was coming. With much difficulty, Zarinan managed to wound the Gold ranked marksman, but just as he was about to deliver the finishing blow, another Gold ranked knight parried it away and had his subordinates rescue the marksman.
It was only then when Blademaster Zarinan truly understood why the Second Prince's army of 100000 had been crushed utterly by the forces of the Norton Family. The soldiers he faced were so well-trained that he had never seen any like them and they rushed at him courageously without the slightest hesitation. The Gold ranked knight who had received his finishing blow to save the marksman also had pretty solid swordsmanship that allowed him to defend against close to a hundred strikes from Blademaster Zarinan with much difficulty before he was finally struck once.
Despite the two Gold ranked knights' injures, the Norton Family soldiers weren't the slightest intimidated and continued to rush frantically at Blademaster Zarinan. They were even willing to trade their lives for the chance to land the shallowest injury on the Blademaster. A few of the soldiers even gave their lives just to hold the Blademaster in place after abandoning their weapons and hoped that their comrades would avenge their deaths.
After killing more than 300 men, Blademaster Zarinan already lost count. His Battle Force was also slowly running out. Even if he was a rank 3 Blademaster, his Battle Force was still limited in amount and could not be used indefinitely; he could only last longer than the average Gold ranked knight. When faced with the Norton Family soldiers' frantic assault, his Battle Force was drained even more quickly as the armor the soldiers wore required more Battle Force than usual to cut through.
After that, the tens of ballistas that joined the fray caused Blademaster Zarinan even more grief. He never would've expected that the bolts fired by the ballistas would have even more force than the arrow fired by the Gold ranked knight, causing him to suffer two more injuries as a result with one of the bolts brushing against his left arm and the other boring its way through his right calf, leaving a gaping, bleeding hole behind.
The heavily battered Blademaster understood that if he did not make his escape, he would be overwhelmed by the Norton Family soldiers. So, while he still had some Battle Force remaining, he rushed deeper into the forest and headed towards the location where Lorist hid unknowingly.
Blademaster Zarinan resolved himself to give the Norton Family soldiers a good lesson when he recovered some more Battle Force and cursed internally throughout his escape. He then leaped over the shrub that was blocking his way and made his way up one large tree with the last remnants of his Battle Force before sitting limply on the tree branch.
Blademaster Zarinan was rather satisfied with the large tree as it had thick branches and dense foliage. There was no way anyone would be able to locate him from beneath the tree. After that, he looked around to inspect his surroundings, only to see a pair of eyes burning with anger and a sword gleaming with cold light heading his way, accompanied by a vicious scream. "Bastard! Give me your life!"